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Build Your Vocabulary

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Build Your Vocabulary

Published 1948

Dramatizes the story of a father, who, after finding himself at a loss for words at a public meeting, follows his son's lead and starts a campaign of vocabulary improvement.

Run time 10:20
Producer Coronet Instructional Films
Sponsor N/A
Audio/Visual Sd, B&W


Shows the need for an understanding of the value and techniques of learning new words. Dramatizes the story of a father, who, after finding himself at a loss for words at a public meeting, follows his son's lead and starts a campaign of vocabulary improvement. For high school, college, and adult groups.
Ken Smith sez: The film opens at a "civic association" meeting, probably a familiar setting for its late forties audience. "Mr. Willis" wants to speak his mind, but he lacks the vocabulary he needs to articulate his thoughts properly. Afterward, as he sulks at home, dutiful son Pete asks him to read his term paper before he hands it in -- a paper about the need to turn public parks into "playgrounds for the direction of youthful energy into character-building channels." Mr. Willis is impressed with Pete's "explicitness," and Pete encourages him to keep a "vocabulary notebook" in "a business-like way." "People can be interested in new ideas," the narrator explains, but apparently only if they're articulated correctly. Mr. Willis doesn't find building his vocabulary easy ("Nobody can learn all these words!" he yells at one point, "I'm going to bed!"), but in the end it pays and he becomes the star of the next civic association meeting. Who says the young can't teach the old? All interiors. Some nice low-light photography as dad struggles at his desk at night. Some actual intended humor as dad's secretary flees from his silent scowling. Nice use of layered voices echoing inside dad's head as he wrestles with his conscience. The camera actually dollies in for reaction shots; unusual, tricky and effective. Use of flashbacks and wipes.

MCU man and woman sitting behind table, sign appears in frame above them indicating "West Side Civic Association", man standing up in what appears to be a meeting, speaking, he sits down, 2 other men stand up, 1 remains standing and begins to speak, the other sits back down; VS man speaking; MCU man sitting at table; MCU man speaking, grabs ear.
MCU young man sitting in chair reading book; looks up, closes book, sets it down, stands up, approaches door way; man enters frame removing hat, approaches sofa, sits down, young man standing next to him, they engage in conversation, young man has booklet in hand, hands it to man; MCU man sitting, reading booklet; MCU young man; man closes book; MCU young man; VS man and young man speaking; young man approaches lamp table, picks up note book, approaches sofa, sits down next to man, MS man and young man sitting on sofa young man speaking, opens notebook, CU page of notebook indicating "Personal Vocabulary Notebook"; page turns, CU text in notebook, (vocab); MS man and young man sitting on sofa; young man closes notebook, speaking, MCU man
08:00:40:00 - 08:00:55:00
MCU man sitting at desk writing in notebook (scene is dark); CU notebook page indicating "explicit", "Valance", "Vacillate", pen in frame, a check mark is placed by the work "explicit", MCU man sitting at desk writing, leans back in chair placing pen on chin as if thinking.
08:00:56:00 - 08:01:05:00
MS man sitting in chair, woman standing over him speaking, (in living room setting) woman crosses arm, places other hand under chin as if she was leaning on it.
03:01:07:00 - 08:02:09:00
MCU man sitting at desk; thinking expression on face, turning pages of book, reads book; CU highlighted text (rest of frame is black), that indicates "Val-ance (val-ens), n. short curtain; as, the valance over the top of a window; VS man at desk looking up vocabulary words, checking them off in notebook as he finds them; man closes book, stands up, shuts off light.
08:02:09:00 - 08:03:46:00
MS man standing at bottom of stairs putting on jacket, young man comes down stairs, picks up notebook and exits frame; VS man putting on jacket, stops as if to listen to someone talking to him; puts on hat; picks up newspaper, headline indicates "Mayor Issues Ultimatum", folds it up and exits frame; MS man sitting down at desk; CU text of letter; MCU man looking upset; woman coming in door to man's office; approaches man's desk; MCU man; she approaches door, exits, MCU man; CU man leaning head on fist; VS man at desk looking upset; reaches into jacket pocket, removes notebook, sets it on desk, opens it, writes in it; CU man writing word "anthology".
08:03:47:00 - 08:04:49:00
CU book cover indicating "Anthology of Modern Plays"; MS man sitting in chair looking at book; man sets down book, picks up another; CU book cover indicating "Complete Guide to Interior Decoration", book is opened to first page, top of page indicates "Table setting as decoration"; MCU man looking at book; closes it, sets it down, picks up another book; CU cover indicating "Fundamentals of Printing"; MCU man looking at book; camera approaches book cover indicating "The Modern Playground".
08:04:50:00 - 08:06:07:00
MCU man sitting banging gavel on desk; MCU man standing speaking (profile); MCU man sitting; (reaction shot) MCU man standing speaking; MCU young man (reaction shot); MS man standing speaking to audience; CU young man.
08:06:08:00 - 08:06:37:00
MS man sitting on sofa, young man standing next to him; man looking at booklet; MS 5 people sitting at table; MS woman sitting at desk speaking to woman sitting to side of desk, woman answers telephone; MS people sitting at table.
08:06:38:00 - 08:07:15:00
MCU young man; MS man speaking to audience; audience begins to applaud; man sits down; shakes hands with man sitting next to him.
dad father son family dictionary


Reviewer: JSBejma - favoritefavoritefavorite - September 24, 2014
Subject: Diagnosis: Pre-senile Dementia
Wait just a minute. Mr Willis has a desk job, lofty enough for having his own secretary; walks around in a suit even at home; attends and participates at municipal meetings; and his honor student son feels compelled to have Dad'ums review his high school term paper? Yet the guy can't understand ordinary language? Oh, oh. Receptive aphasia apparently.

Looks like early symptoms of dementia. Note his facial expression at the meeting at the beginning of the movie. Yup. It's organic. What they don't show at the end is that he has his underwear on over his suit pants.

Very nice handwriting though. No motor manifestations at this time.
Reviewer: PrelingerFan - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - June 20, 2014
Subject: A fine classic film
The actor who appears as Mr. Willis was a fine radio and stage actor from the Chicago area named Frank McLaughlin. It's wonderful to be able to see him again.

By the way, this particular Coronet film was filmed in color, and available in both color and black and white prints.
Reviewer: Retro Geek - favoritefavoritefavorite - July 16, 2010
Subject: What you talkin' about Willis?
Mr. Willis appears to be a 50+ year old American white bread male who cannot communicate or express himself. Everyone, including his own wife and son, is using complicated and confusing words that he does not understand. This apparently has not hindered his ability to hold down an executive position. He manages to write very good business letters even though he admits he doesn't understand the meaning of the words he uses which ought to scare his superiors. However, like all good Coronet films, he can solve all his problems if he keeps a list of the words he doesn't understand and then spend exciting evenings alone studying them using a dictionary and thesaurus he apparently never knew existed. There's a very funny scene when his secretary comes in to announce a caller and he is in a frozen stare fuming over the word feasible. Also in true Coronet recycling fashion, notice the inserted clip from Are You Popular? This film is funny but not very FEASIBLE as to CREDIBILITY. Quick Willis, grab your dictionary!
Reviewer: HuckleberryFinn - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - April 12, 2004
Subject: English is nearly impossible to master, even as a first language.
Some total idiot can't talk and decides that he really should learn some 3+ syllable words. Word Learning turns out to be a frustrating mess, and he almost gives up, tormented by the voices in his questionably schizophrenic head, reciting vocabulary he is unfamiliar with. He finally decides that it's worth learning new words to avoid looking stupid at a town council meeting where he is asking for more parks(?)

This film is both condescending and completely implausible. It rocks.
Reviewer: Christine Hennig - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - December 8, 2003
Petes dad, Mr. Willis, has a problem (Pete doesnt have a problem, which is unusual for a Coronet film). It seems that folks keep usin all these high-fallutin words around him, words like explicit and anthology. It darn near drives him nuts (in a very campy scene) until he starts writin in one a them-there vocabulary notebooks. Now he can finally understand what his wife is talking about! This is a very campy film. Its main character is pathetically stupid, so much so that you get the impression that the only thing keeping him in his job is the fact that hes a white male. He even gets the book Fundamentals of Printing from the library to read for the first timeconsidering he works for a printing company this is probably a good idea. Good thing hes not a doctor. This character, and the fact that an adult is portrayed as the clueless one for once, make this a unique and memorable Coronet film, prime for msting.
Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: *****.
Reviewer: Steve Nordby - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - September 27, 2003
Subject: Feasible allocate anthology ultimatum
Pete's persuasive position paper of plans for public playgrounds provide parent with positive paternal passion. Pete shows Dad his notebook of new words, and Dad follows suit. Soon he'll know what his wife is talking about, if he doesn't get frustrated learning "fancy words." At work he hears his son's soft, lisping voice in his head saying "explicit," and that motivates him to go to the library. Soon he's giving explicit ultimatums to an impressed city council.
Reviewer: Spuzz - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - February 17, 2003
Subject: Use them big words!
Coronet guidance films for adults are few and far between, I never knew they existed. So I was surprised when I viewed 'Build Your Vocabulary' as it presents a Mr Willis, struggling to make a speech at a town hall meeting. He then marvels at his son's term paper (called "Parks, Playgrounds or National Monuments?" and presented in an ugly duotang) He reads the first page and marvels at all the big words his son uses. He learns that NO, his son doesnt use these words every day, but it sure helps to build your vocabulary for when the time sees fit. Seriously, Mr Willis is pushing 50 and he's learning that NOW? Anyways, he learns from his son that it pays to MAKE A LIST (A Coronet staple) of big words he doesn't know, and learn their context. Mr Willis gets exasperated at his attempts at this in a VERY funny scene, throws his pen down and blurts "I'm going to BED!" But soon after, he gives it one more try, and then the audience at the the meetings marvel at his sudden public speaking skills. Reccomended!
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